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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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Urgent help needed for libel reform

Three years after the launch of the libel reform campaign, we are receiving just as many notices of new libel actions against scientists and medics and the Government’s new Defamation Bill does not yet contain a usable public interest defence. Many of you know about the cases that shed light on the effects of libel threats on discussions about science and medicine: Simon Singh was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for questioning the evidence for chiropractic to treat child disorders. Ben Goldacre was sued by vitamin salesman Matthias Rath for criticising his promotion of vitamins to treat HIV and AIDS. Cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst was sued by medical device company NMT Medical for questioning the use of data from a clinical trial of a heart device.

Speech and language specialist Francisco Lacerda had a paper on lie detection withdrawn. Surgeon Dalia Nield was threatened with legal action by cosmetic company Rodial for questioning their claims that Boob Job cream can increase breast size. Blogger Vaughan Jones was sued by a creationist author for a book review. The journal Nature was sued by a journal editor for criticising his record of self-publication.

Sadly there are many more. This week biochemist Stuart Jones has received notice of intention to sue for libel from Dr Sarah Myhill for comments after he reported her to the GMC. We helped Stuart get legal advice and he is responding to the threat. The details of the correspondence are here. If you can help support the cost of this legal advice it will make it easier for us to find pro-bono help for others in the future.

But what we’d really like to do is to change that future, by pressing the Government to introduce an effective public interest defence. We have to make sure parliament knows urgent improvements are needed. Please, if you haven’t already, help to do this:

  • Come to the meeting in Parliament on Wednesday 27th June. If you can come, contact your MP and arrange to meet them at the rally (after 12.30 following the rally and Prime Minister’s Questions) to ask them directly what they are going to do to ensure there will be a new strong public interest defence in the Defamation Bill, more details on the mass lobby here. Let us know if you can come and if you are meeting your MP.

For more information, contact Sile Lane, slane@senseaboutscience.org, 07719391814 or for more on the Libel Reform Campaign contact Mike Harris, mike@indexoncensorship.org

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